In 1579 the English clergyman Stephen Gosson published the romantic story Ephemerides and in it referred to people who were engaged in a hopeless task:
"Seekinge too make a silke purse of a Sowes eare."
Thus the old proverb 'you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear' was born, and from that we have derived the relatively modern expression 'to make a pig's ear of it'.
It is an expression I grew up with and it was one which I predominantly heard escaping the lips of either one, or both, of my parents. The most notable instance was when I was 9 years old and on holiday in Spain and my brother Paul wanted to have a go at Go-Kart racing. We drove down to the local track where youngsters were torpedoing round corners like mini Ayrton Senna's in what sounded, and looked, like the sand buggies from Mad Max 2 - only more dangerous!
I was lifted into the cockpit of one of these beasts and was told to go out and give it my all. With a heady mixture of bravado and pants-wetting terror I put my foot to the floor and promptly crashed straight through the metal barrier on the very first corner. After being pulled from the wreckage with a bleeding lip and a bruised ego, my father attempted to lighten the mood and chuckled:
"You made a right pig's ear of that corner, didn't you?!"
Yes I did Father, thank you pointing out the bleeding obvious!
Much in the same vein (oh the the word play!) as my father, the Daily Mail and a number of other mainstream media outlets had a rather jolly time pointing out that adidas may have made a pig's ear, or in this case a cow's heart, of their latest World Cup ad by angering animal rights groups.
Lukas Podolski, Diego Costa, Arjen Robben and Dani Alves are among the players who appear in the graphic ad holding bloody cow hearts with the tagline:
'During the World Cup, I will give my heart to the cause.'
Understandably a number of animal welfare groups have promptly blasted the campaign for using ‘the heart of an innocent animal’ for PR purposes.
Now from a personal perspective my initial reaction when seeing the ad was similar to when a comedian makes a particularly close-to the-bone joke. I performed the perfunctory sharp intake of breath, acted as if I had bitten into a lemon, tilted my head to one side and then let my brain catch up with my face.
If the primary objective for this advert was to shock, then I have to admit that it succeeded. A joke that shocks can be very effective, however it depends on what the joke is and whether it comes from a good or bad place. The same can be said for shock advertising.
In advertising this kind of tactic is designed principally to break through the “clutter” in order to capture attention and create buzz. It is still widely debated just how effective this tactic really is, with many arguing that shock advertising is more memorable, increases attention and evokes stronger feelings among consumers. Many brands have adopted the use of shock advertisements in their campaigns, with the most notable case being Benetton who were both praised and condemned for their ad's featuring ducks covered in oil and priests and nuns kissing.
However in the case of Benetton there was a clear objective to raise awareness for important causes and to challenge how people thought about those causes. In the case of the adidas ad you could argue that they have simply gone for the shock value in order to create a buzz.
Is it a step too far? Maybe, but considering all of the clutter that is brought about by the multitude of brands vying for a piece of the World Cup audience, you can also argue that adidas have succeeded in making their ad stand out from the crowd.
People are definitely talking about it one way or another.Whether you agree with using actual animal organs for advertising purposes or not, there is no denying that the ad is both memorable and evokes a strong reaction, which is kind of the point of a PR stunt.
We at theblueballroom are passionate about being bold and challenging both ourselves and our clients to be innovative, but at the same time you have to consider that by being bold in order to stand out you sometimes run the risk of alienating some of your audience.
To me this comes across as a 'plan b' idea from a brainstorm which never got a 'plan a' idea to trump it, however I can clearly see why it got signed off based on the fact that it ticks a lot of the boxes. They have taken a calculated risk with this ad in particular and it may be that they learn from this and steer clear of using animal parts in future campaigns, but as long as their objectives are to create a buzz through effective communication, this is something you cannot take for granted.